Conflict in the Blogosphere: Ramifications of the Incarnation
About 7 years ago, I was the store manager for one of the largest Dairy Queens on the west coast. During the summer months, entire softball teams, birthday parties and other random customers would pack the restaurant until the late hours of the night devouring large quantities of "soft serve," making a mess, and generally creating chaos. Those were some of the most stressful nights of my life. (This is going somewhere, trust me!)
Hardly a night went by that I did not have some sort of confrontation with an angry customer. Either they were upset for having to wait in the drive-thru line, or their food was not quite as hot as they had expected, or their dessert did not meet their specifications.
There was one lesson I learned through these encounters I have never forgotten: conflict between persons can only be healed by an incarnated human response that goes beyong mere words. Words do not heal. They can destroy, but never rebuild. On those hot, sticky nights at the DQ there was usually nothing I could *say* that would fix the situation regardless of who was "right." My experience of the "other" was totally based on the words we used, rather than the lives we shared.
It seems I am learning this truth again.
In recent weeks, I have had several exchanges in the blogosphere with people who were offended by something I wrote, either here at St. Stephen's or elsewhere. As I wrote in a post on 1/17/03 entitled "Being Aware of the Text: Internet Community", "Internet community is in many ways a shell of what true community is..." Never have I felt this to be more true than now.
The irony of the blogs is that, while we seem to create instant communication of ideas, the damage done to relationships is almost impossible to fix by the blogs alone. No email, no comment, no letter can ever truly restore persons who have been estranged while interacting in cyberspace. We need those essential non-verbal facial clues; we need the physical touch of a reassuring hand; we need the smile of someone who now understands how the misunderstanding occurred. To work through the difficulty of conflict, we need incarnated community because it allows us to interact within a paradigm not based solely on our words. Sadly, this experience is the one thing blogs can't provide.
We who spend a lot of time in the digital "Matrix" of the blogosphere understand the medium's inherent limitations. And, with all of the tools at our disposal, we try to make ourselves clear, straightforward and authentic while trying to establish cyber-community. But as John Adams noted in this great post on blog ethics, "Most of this animosity [on the Net] seems to have a common root � simple misunderstandings." I couldn't agree more.
St. Philo of Alexandria once said, "Be kind to others, for they are fighting a great battle." Let us remember who are audience is when we write our posts by not writing something that is unnecessary. We do not know what someone is going through and we need to remember that our words can help destroy the soul of another human person. Let us remember the writers when we comment on these posts, by starting off with the assumption that what they wrote wasn't meant to offend. Let's give one another the benefit of the doubt before we jump to conclusions about one another's motives. Most important of all, let us attempt to say what we really mean in our writing. If we have conflict (and we should if we are being real!), let us look deeper into ourselves to find the *why* rather than the *what* of the situation. I say all of this as someone who needs your prayers to accomplish this.
There are days when I despair, thinking that blogging is only difficult, but seemingly inhospitable to living a fully incarnated Christian life. However, it is not the conflict that makes me feel this way, because conflict is not only inevitable, but necessary for growth. My fear is based on what I see happening in the blogs:
1) Either our words do irreparable damage to relationships, or 2) they are just leaves to the wind, forgotten in our archives. Rarely, do they produce lasting community and they usually never bring about reconciliation between the human persons behind the words.
Let us all pray for one another. If you do not already do this, add all those who regularly correspond with you on the blogs to your intercession lists. For if we do not have physical community within which to grow, we always have prayer. Let us use this weapon, above all, to forge community, both in the "Matrix" of the blogosphere and in the real world.